Directory of All Essays

Monday, June 08, 2009

My top secret reading list

I figured that it was time to share with my secret stash. I've been using Google Reader to tag interesting articles and publish them all to a single location. Occasionally, I've added snarky comments. You can find the entire treasure trove here:
This list is updated a bit more regularly than my blog, but since I don't believe in covering Lost Garden with link fests, I'll keep it as a hidden secretive thing. So shh...tell only special people.

What a glorious summer day,

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Random links and musings

Here are some random notes of interest:
  • Ballistic Wars: The good folks over at Easy Only! Games put together a delightful little tactics game using concepts similar to those found in SpaceCute. My hope is to see an entire genre based off this mechanic popping up. As we saw from the prototyping challenge, there are a huge number of different variants that are possible.

  • Call for Participation for the Experimental Gameplay Sessions 2008: Johnathan Blow is out shaking the bushes to round up a few experimental games. I suspect there are likely a few folks that read this blog working on something intriguing in their spare time. Shine on, you crazy diamond.

  • March of commodification: Raph chats about how R&D on chat turns into commodity off the shelf software over a period of only a decade. What once needed to be built from scratch is now a simple option that can be toggled on if desired. It made me think that perhaps technology is not a company's long term competitive advantage. Instead, it is the unique (and fragile!) community that a service fosters.

  • What we are missing: Another Raph presentation. Worth reading if you have somehow missed the joyous discussion about where online games are going.

  • Asynchronous games: The ever delightful Ian Bogost has a detailed discussion about the history of asynchronous multiplayer games. I love his use of personalized scores in Asteroids as an example for turning a single player experience into a highly social multiplayer experience. If you are a casual game developer who isn't thinking about asynchronous multiplayer experiences, you are missing out on some amazing opportunities.

  • Flash developers?: Do you know anyone with mad Flash/Flex skills who is interested in innovative casual games and social networking? I've got a good friend who is looking into prototyping some concepts in hopes of creating a startup. It would be ideal if they were in the Seattle/Puget Sound area. Drop me a note at danc [at] lostgarden [dot] com and I'll forward on the info.
take care

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Sunday, April 09, 2006

Jesse Schell, over at Carnegie Mellon, dropped me a note on a fun project documenting game design innovations. I normally do not post the editorialized links that you find on many sites. For this, I’ll make an exception. Here’s the blurb:

"The Game Innovation team is launching The Game Innovation Database (GIDb) today. The goal of the GIDb is to:
  1. Document every innovation in the entire history of computer and videogames.
  2. Provide a comprehensive taxonomy for classifying videogame innovations.
  3. Make its data available through an online wiki.
  4. Serve as a forum to discuss the importance, influence, and possible future applications of various innovations.
Anyone can edit and contribute entries. The GIDb is designed for a variety of users. Instructors can use it for teaching videogame history and design classes. Game developers can use it as a tool for research and brainstorming. Game players, enthusiasts, and researchers can find information about specific games and can easily share their own knowledge. Those with a strong interest in videogame innovation may apply to join the GIDb Editorial Board.

Please feel free to make contributions and pass this along to friends and colleagues. We need your contributions and input!

The GIDb can be found at"

So what?
Here’s why I think this is important. Language is one of the biggest barriers to discussing game designs in an intelligent fashion amongst educated game designers. Currently, each designer is an island, isolated by and limited to their own design experiences. When they attempt to discuss even basic concepts with other designers, the terminology just doesn’t exist. Conversations devolve into exercises in semantic nitpicking as both parties desperately attempt to invent a common terminology on the spot.

I overheard a conversation at GDC where two developers were talking about how games must be challenging in order to be fun. I butted in and said, “What about Animal Crossing? Surely, this is a game that is not about challenge?” It turns out they were discussing Animal Crossing as a prime example, and they looked at me like I was an idiot. Quite understandable. After a few more fumbling attempt, it turned out they were using the word “challenge” were I was using the word “inconvenience” I happened to have a very particular definition of the term “challenge” and the misunderstanding sunk the entire conversation before it even started.

Multiply this one situation by the thousands that have occurred throughout the history of modern game development and it is no wonder that game design is considered to be mostly black magic practiced by a few mysterious talents.

Academic language definition is not the answer
Language is rarely defined through academic rambling. It instead tends to evolve and standardize through everyday usage. I would love to sit down and write a game design dictionary filled with exacting academically defined definitions. However, that would be next to useless. Many have tried and almost universally their work is ignored, except perhaps by a few brilliant eggheads. Academic definitions of game design contain too many words and not enough obvious practical applications where people can actually use the proposed terminology.

I like the approach taken over at because it consists primarily of practical examples. The site consists of dozens of types of game mechanics listed in a format that tells you why they are different, why they matter, and how they relate to others game mechanics. I can easily imagine a game developer browsing through the topics in search of inspiration on their next game.

Game design documents are rhetoric, and the same goes for text-based descriptions of game mechanics found in most writing on game design. In this wiki, however, most of the items listed are real games, many of which are available through emulators or in someone’s video game collection. You can play them and grok the described mechanics on an instinctual level. This is useful data that can be absorbed experientially.

The terminology listed in the taxonomy may seem secondary, but it always exists, lurking in the background. It helps guide your understanding of the information you are consuming and helps integrate your mental models of how games work. When you talk about the concepts that mechanics that you’ve learned with others, how do you communicate them? I am a lazy fellow, so I tend to forward the link from an existing web page onto my friends. I’ll reuse the same terminology so that I don’t confuse folks. The result is a common reference point, anchored in shared experiences.

In the end you have a pragmatic set of useful examples that drive language unification, not some academic dissertation on the definition of the word ‘fun’. It is a classic example where ‘show me’ may well work better than ‘tell me.’

Take care

PS: Blogger has informed that this is officially my 100th post on That is a lot of pseudo-academic blathering, if you ask me. :-) Hope folks are enjoying it.

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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Random Notes from Mr. Fever

I’m sitting here in plaid bathrobe, drinking tea in my nearly empty house. Just imagine a somewhat scruffy Arthur Dent and you’ll get the picture. Due to a rather poorly timed illness, my move out to Seattle having been delayed by a week. I’m left with Civ IV, a web browser and handful of new home loan applications. Yes, I am a dangerous man for the next five days.

Track backs has been mentioned on several sites that I frequent rather regularly. If you haven’t stopped by, check them out.

  • Gamasutra: Best game development site ever.

  • I feel like I’m starting to be a regular over there. Luckily with the new bandwidth package, my site no longer goes down at the smallest mention.

  • Raph Koster: I rather envy the turbulent, but fascinating experience he must be experiencing over at SOE. The rules shift that is happening with SWG is a precursor to the virtual Revolutions of our modern time…major shifts in governmental policy followed by violent public outbursts. These transitions have occurs hundreds of thousands of times throughout human history. Their scale and significance is only increasing in the online worlds we build. Luckily, most players aren’t French and only rant on forums.

  • The Long Tail: If you aren’t familiar with the long tail concept, head over and check it out. It is one of those brilliant ideas that are remarkably difficult to build out in practice. All I can say to the casual games folks who live by it is that portals are the new retail storefronts.

  • DROD: I also wanted to put a yell out to Erik who does some fine work on a title puzzle/dungeon crawl indie title called DROD. He’s experimenting with some of the market concepts I mentioned in my Learning from Touring Bands article. He has a dedicated community with a large focus on user created content and an interesting ‘massively single player’ system of building community. Good stuff.
I have approximately a half dozen essays in various states of disrepair. I know a blog is supposed to be impromptu and exciting, but I’ve come to realize that my rough drafts are considerably rougher than what most people consider comprehensible. A few that come to mind include:

  • Designing an Advergame: Some thoughts that go into design a game as an advertisement.

  • From Donkey Kong to Mario 64: The process of extending a prototype core game mechanic into modern title. This will not be about Nintendo products in case anyone was wondering.

  • The stage gate product design process applied to game design: (Warning, this one is likely to turn into a book at some point. :-)
If any of these sound exciting, drop me a note and it may give me enough mental energy to finish them off.

I’ve been getting some nice feedback from folks at Austin Games and Serious Games Summit. Overall the comments are “Good, long articles that deal with subjects in-depth. Did I mention long?” I worry that I may be causing eyestrain.

Random disappointments
I have been waiting in intense (perhaps even frothing) anticipation for the release of the destined-to-be-great Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space from the heroic folks at Digital Eel. Unfortunately, it is currently only available on CD and not for direct download. Since I’m in the middle of a move, encountering such a retro distribution scheme puts a crimp in my plans.

It is strange how rapidly I’ve come to depend on electronic downloads. The games stay safely on my hard drive, my backup software manages all the save files just like any other bit of data. There’s no physical clutter to worry about and most of the time I end up giving more money to the actual developer instead of the inevitable middle men.

So it is with a distinct sense of melancholy that I slip the CD of Civ IV into my CD drive and dream wistfully of a time when games finally leave the physical world behind. Oh, to have WW:RIS downloading in the background at this very moment.


Gameface news
I’m still keeping tabs on Anark Gameface and heard recently that they had just uploaded the October release. Anark Gameface, for those of you who haven’t checked it out yet is a solution for building game user interfaces, a traditionally dreary and thankless task. If you haven’t had the pleasure, building a UI is far worse than it sounds.

The sweet part about it is Anark Studio, the authoring tool. Basically, the artist gets to build the UI using a tool they love and the programmer just needs to hook up a basic kernel to the game engine. Then they get to wander off and do more important stuff (like not be the artist’s bare chested man slave)

I’ve been meaning to write up an article on the economics of art tool development. Suffice it to say that no development team’s internal tools will ever get to the level of polish that you’ll find in a dedicated tool like Anark Studio. Artists are too damned picky and you’ve got a game to build.

The new version has some lovely Lua-based scripting and well as a set of drag-and-drop interface components. Right now, it is best suited for console titles and there are some great titles in the works using it for the PS3, Xbox 360 and others. If you are building a front end or even an in-game UI, this is the way your process should work.

Empower the artists using powerful, highly productive, easy-to-use tools. That is a game development mantra worth repeating for the next decade or two.

Take care

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Sunday, June 26, 2005

Paper Nintendo characters

Here's another example of the neo-retro art style that is downright delightful. Someone recreated a wide range of Nintendo characters with foldable paper cutouts. It is not overly surprising that a close variation of this style is used in Paper Mario. Kudos to 4colorrebellion for linking to this.

Check it out:

take care

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Friday, June 24, 2005

Article: Usability Testing

Gamasutra has a link up to an article on usability testing in games. This is a subject near and dear to my heart since major elements of games are basically "interfaces". If you assume that games are made up of token, verbs and rules, the first two speak directly to the 'interface' of the game and have a major impact on the title's playability.

Registration is required, but who isn't registered to Gamasutra? :-)

Click here to read the article

take care

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